Thanksgiving, Christmas, Hanukah, Ramadan, Kwanza and New Year’s Day are annual holidays that can be a very difficult time for people who have experienced the death of someone they loved.
Memories during the holiday season serve as reminders of our loss. Watching others who are feeling thankful and are celebrating when you feel overwhelmed, lonely or sad can be very painful.
The first step in coping with grief during the holidays is to acknowledge that the first holiday season is difficult, and then to prepare for it, in advance, by making specific plans and obtaining the support that you need.
Remember too that sometimes anticipation of a holiday can be more difficult than the arrival of the day itself.
Set realistic expectations for yourself. Remind yourself that this year is different. Decide if you can still handle the responsibilities you have had in the past. Examine the tasks and events of celebrating and ask yourself if you want to continue them.
Surround yourself with people who love and support you. Share your plans with family and friends and let them know of any intended changes in holiday routine. Memories can sometimes be a source of comfort to the bereaved. Share your memories with others of holidays spent with your loved one by telling stories and looking at photo albums.
Try to avoid “canceling” the holiday, despite the temptation. It is fine to avoid some circumstances that you do not feel ready to handle, but avoid completely isolating yourself. Allow yourself some time for solitude, remembering and grieving, but balance it with planned activities with others.
Allow yourself to feel joy, sadness, and anger – allow yourself to grieve. It is important to recognize that every family member has their own unique grief experience and may have different needs related to celebrating the holidays. Not one way is right or wrong. Experiencing joy and laughter does not mean you have forgotten your loved one.
Draw comfort from helping others. Consider giving a donation or gift in memory of your loved one. Invite a guest who might otherwise be alone for the holidays. Adopt a needy family during the holiday season.
Take care of yourself. Avoid using alcohol to self-medicate your mood. Try to avoid the hustle and bustle of the holiday season. Physical exercise is often an anecdote for depression. Writing in a journal can be a good outlet for your grief expression.
Create a new tradition or ritual that accommodates your current situation. Some people find comfort in old traditions. Others find them unbearably painful. Discuss with your family the activities you want to include or exclude this year.
Some examples of new rituals and traditions include:
Light a candle in honor of your absent loved one.
Put a bouquet of flowers on your holiday table in memory of your loved one.
Visit the cemetery and decorate the memorial site with holiday decorations.
Have a moment of silence during a holiday toast to honor your loved one.
Place a commemorative ornament on the Christmas tree.
Dedicate one of the Hanukah candles in memory of your loved one.
Play your loved one’s favorite music or play their favorite game.
Plan a meal with your loved one’s favorite foods.
The most important thing to remember is there is no right or wrong way to celebrate the holiday season after the death of a loved one.